Ten Northern Kentucky startups to watch in 2022

Startups hold the keys to the growth of jobs and the region's economy. We consulted with experts in the local startup scene and did our own research and came up with these fast-growing companies that will bear watching. 

Smoove Creations


Northern Kentucky University student Isaiah Kelly started in his garage experimenting with restoring and painting designs on second-hand sneakers. After posting photos of his brightly colored work on Instagram, he began getting inquiries from friends and family: “Could you make some of those for me?” The word spread and he started getting requests from people he didn’t know.  What started as a pastime turned into a business. He reached out to Northern Kentucky University’s Inkubator, a 12-week program that helps students and alumni bridge the gap between concept and business.  In the fall of 2019, he won the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneurship Award Cincinnati Regional Competition, the premier competition for students who have started their own business. He and his team have designed and made customized footwear for St. Elizabeth Healthcare, NKU, University of Louisville, and many others, and is branching out into custom hats and t-shirts.


Cloverleaf

Cloverleaf’s founders have developed a project management software platform designed to help managers put together employee teams by providing insights into the employees’ strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly, personalities. The platform collects results from various personality assessments, including Cloverleaf's own, and uses the information to help managers determine who can work best together. Since being founded in 2017, Cloverleaf has raised at least $1.8 million in three rounds of venture funding, according to Crunchbase. By 2021, the number of full-time team members had grown to 26, and customers have included UPS, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and AFLAC.

Bexion Pharmaceuticals

At the ripe old age of 15, Bexion Pharmaceuticals almost doesn’t qualify as a startup, but the young company is pushing the boundaries on researching and developing drugs for some of the most difficult cancers. In late 2021, the company received the green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to go ahead with the next phase of a clinical trial of its new drug, BXQ-350.  The drug has shown promise in treating brain and colorectal tumors and Bexion has completed a Phase 1 clinical trial of it in humans. It plans to move forward with two adult Phase 2 trials this year. In February, the company named former Pfizer executive Richard “Scott” Shively as president and CEO, succeeding Dr. Ray Takigiku, who will remain as founder and chief scientific officer.  
Bexion is in clinical trials with a drug to treat brain cancer and other cancers.


Safewave Technology

About 600,000 people in the U.S. are deaf , and another 6 million are hard of hearing. With those numbers in mind, Covington-based Safewave Technology developed a vibration-based home security system for people who cannot hear traditional sound alarms. The product is a wrist band that connects to door alarms, window alarms, and other security sensors. Three motors inside a silicon band that connect to a mobile app provide a strong vibration that warns of a security alarm. Founder Trevon Bruch was asleep at his home when a fire alarm went off, leading him to wonder how he would have been alerted to the alarm if he couldn’t hear. The company pitched the product at Texas Christian University’s Values and Ventures pitch competition in 2019, and has recently raised a $35,000 bridge fund, according to NKU’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.


Gravity Diagnostics

Launched in 2015 as a small lab, Covington-based Gravity Diagnostics has been on the leading edge of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. As the virus emerged in early 2020 and became a crisis, the company quickly won contracts with hospitals, state governments, schools, universities, and retailers that urgently needed help processing the rapidly growing number of Covid tests. Employment grew from a handful of people to 450, and revenue in one year grew 3,000%. The company has continued growing, developing a 3-in-1 test that can not only detect the Covid virus, but also influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, RSV. It recently won a contract with Kroger to perform the tests and analyze them for Kroger’s 224 Little Clinics around the country.


Ulimi

Founded in 2017 by Nick Dokich, Ulimi (pronounced yoo-LEE-me), started as a software company that developed chatbots that businesses could use to communicate with employees and perform human resources functions.  The company grew quickly with its Click360 product that helps automate performance reviews, decreasing the time and money spent on them. Its Reach product enables companies to communicate via text with workers who may not have company email addresses, such as warehouse employees. An industry trade magazine named Ulimi one of the top 10 chatbot solutions companies. In response to COVID, its team created Reach Health Checks, which sends health screening tests to all employees before the start of their shifts.
The Ulimi team created Reach Health Check to help employers respond to Covid-19.


Motus Freight

The region’s experience in logistics and transportation produced one of Kentucky’s fastest-growing companies. Motus Freight was the region’s fastest-growing firm, with a three-year growth rate of 665%, according to the latest Inc. 5000 ranking of the swiftest growing small businesses in the country. Motus, based in Bellevue, is a transportation logistics company, providing shipping for customers and contracts with carriers to move freight. Since 2018, the number of shipments it has delivered across the U.S. has more than tripled. It was founded in 2015 by Doug Lackey, Grant Mitchell, and Andy Smith, three who had started, built, and operated a handful of other companies over the previous 20 years.


Rem Brands

Chemist, physicist, and entrepreneur David Schneider started Rem Brands in Walton, Ky. in 2011 to develop technologies for disinfection, odor control, and stain removal.  The company developed a product called Sanitrol that can be sprayed on surfaces to kill bacteria and viruses. It also developed an odor-removal technology called OdoGard, which is being used by Clorox in its Glad ForceFlex trash bags. Interest in the technology grew with the emergence of COVID-19. In February, Tennessee-based manufacturer GreenTech Environmental announced a new air purifier that incorporates Rem Brands’ technology and is said to eliminate 99.98% of the virus that causes Covid-19.


ThorDrive

ThorDrive was incorporated in 2016 at the Seoul National University in Korea, and started as a robo-taxi program in downtown Seoul. In 2018, the company expanded to the United States, first in Silicon Valley, but then pivoted toward industrial uses of its autonomous vehicle technology. The company says the technology can be retrofitted for different uses, and it is now focused on developing and testing its technology at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in autonomous baggage and cargo tractors. CVG is now the center of  trials of the technology in a live operating environment, and is advancing autonomous technology that could be a model for communities.
ThorDrive is testing autonomous baggage handling vehicles at CVG.


StepCG

The information technology services firm made the most recent Inc. 5000 annual list of the fastest-growing companies in the country. The company ranked No. 982 of the list of 5,000, with a three-year revenue growth rate of 490%. StepCG is moving into the 5G infrastructure market, recently announcing a partnership with a Silicon Valley company to provide private 5G local area networks to businesses. It’s a market that’s forecast to grow to an estimated $5.7 billion worldwide by 2024.